Eoin Butler's Q & A
RICH GILLIGAN Irish photographer lifts the lid on the world of DIY skateboarding
What is DIY?DIY is a subculture within skateboarding where boarders build their own structures to skate on. The structures are usually located on wasteland and made out of concrete and whatever other materials are at hand. Skateboarders tend to keep the location of these sites a closely guarded secret.
Why?The sites are often illegal. Also, boarders would fear that, if word got out, people would start turning up and hanging out, doing drugs or drinking and writing graffiti. All of a sudden, it would become a very anti-social scene.
So skateboarders think they’re better than other juvenile delinquents?I wouldn’t call skateboarders juvenile delinquents. I mean, how many footballers would go out and mow and line their own pitch? Concrete is a difficult substance to work with. So these structures have architectural and cultural significance.
You’ve put together a book on the subject. Where were the photos taken?Warsaw, Helsinki, Hamburg, Bray, Portland, Oregon . . . all over Europe and North America. There’s a stereotype of the blonde, blue-eyed skateboarder, with perfect teeth, skateboarding in the California sun. I wanted to dispel that. I wanted to show the diversity of this subculture. Some of these structures are urban, some are rural. Some are built on what look like lunar landscapes.
This one looks like it was constructed on the set of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’.That’s Dick’s Bowl in Oxfordshire. I happened to visit there the morning the concrete truck arrived. The guys were bringing the wet concrete in in wheelbarrows and there was a rush to get it in place before it set. So it was all hands on deck.
You actually set your camera down and pitched in?Of course. I did about two hours work there before taking a single picture. In every location I shot, I’d pitch in or hang out and skate a while before shooting.
So you weren’t simply documenting this culture, you were actively participating in it?Exactly. These locations aren’t advertised on blogs. This is how I was able to get the access I did. Wherever I went, I was invisible. Whether it was a ghetto in Memphis, or a car park in Sheffield, I was just another skater there to help out.
How did you pay for all this travelling?For the first three of the four years, I was completely self-funded. Anywhere I was sent on a commercial assignment, I would stay an extra day or two and scout locations locally. Once, Jack Daniels sent me to Nashville and I ended up staying on for an extra fortnight shooting around the southern states. During that time, some of my pictures were exhibited in Paris and a French publisher offered me a book deal. They also funded the last leg of travel.